Sunday, May 12, 2019

A brief history of Brogans (English Civil War to World War I)

Brogan are heavy, ankle-high work boot made of thick untanned leather, and worn by farm workers in Scotland and Ireland as early as the 16th century. From Old Irish "bróc" meaning "shoe", these offered some protection from the wet, boggy countryside. According to Rossi (2000), a brog was a clog like work shoe made with a coarsely tanned leather upper. Brogans and brogan-like shoes and boots evolved to become sophisticated and sturdy brogues i.e. oxford shoes with wing tips often decorated with perforations (or broguing) and made with a firm leather sole and worn as a dress or business shoe.

Brogans first appeared as military footwear in the English Civil War (1642–1651), when foot soldiers were issued with rough ankle high boots. Contrary to popular belief, the armies of Cromwell and King Charles were dressed in exactly the same way. This frequently led to considerable confusion on the battlefield. 17th century brogans had side cut-outs to help with width fitting and were straight lasted boots with no right or left fitting. Until the boots had been broken-in they would be uncomfortable. The boots were initially heel-less but gradually heeled brogans began to appear. The uppers were typically made of only three pieces of leather sewn together edge to edge, two pieces at the side and one covering the instep and the toes, which could be round or square. The side pieces would extend into a strap or latchet fastening. In Britain, these continued to serve as military footwear up until the American Revolutionary War (1775 –1783).

In 1801, Thomas Jefferson wore a pair of modified brogan boots at his inauguration. The laced-up ankle bootees were made by John Michin, a Washington DC shoemaker. They cost $6.00 (today's equivalent of $US 116) and the pair of silk strings, 25 cents. This set a fashion for “Jefferson Shoes.” The term continued to mean laced shoes until the early twentieth century. Jefferson had abandoned buckles for silk laces and chose to support the ideology attached to practical footwear adopted from the French labouring classes after the Revolution. His preference for unadorned shoes were taken as a clear indication of his republicanism. Needless to say he met with criticism and the lacing style was considered effeminate. In short order bootees became a fashion trend and were generally known as “Jeffersons.”

American soldiers were issued with straight lasted brogans until 1822, when right and left boots became available. In 1851 the army changed the standard shoe from a low shoe to a higher version to end the need for the half gaiters. The demand for footwear meant the search for cheaper ways to mass produce shoes. The upper of the brogan bootee was traditionally stitched or welted to the sole. The new technique dispensed with stitching and like modular furniture, used little wooden pegs to attach the sole to the upper. Each boot had 4 holes in each side of the quarter and 2 holes in the vamp. Called ‘pegged boots,’ the uppers, made from tanned leather (rough side out) and dyed black, were formed on left and right lasts of oak. The soles were made of one or two layers of prime sole leather. Heels had hand set square nails. The new bootees were less popular and many soldiers in the field preferred the original straight lasted brogans. During the Civil War (1861 to 1865), the U.S. Quartermaster Dept. purchased some 6,082,297 brogan bootees and only 2 million were of the new boot style. According to Rossi (1993), the unpopularity of 'crooked shoes' (right and left) among soldiers was so pronounced, it took another 50 years before they were introduced to civilian footwear. Confederate troops were not charged for Russet brogans (brown, sweet potato colored shoes) because they were associated with African American slaves. Brown leather brogans or 'Ga Bootees,' were stigmatised.

Just eight years before assuming the presidency of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis was the U.S. Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. In his post, he attempted to innovate the military, including introducing new bootees. In 1858, Davis recognised soldiers often suffered with uncomfortable boots. As a result, he revised combat boot design which became known as the Jeff Davis boot, and re-equipped the army with new issue. The military work boot was worn by the US Army until the 1880s.

Samuel Putney travelled from Massachusetts to Richmond to sell shoes before forming a partnership with William Watts to establish the Putney & Watts Shoe Company in 1817. Samuel's nephew Stephen, joined them and it became Putney, Watts & Putney until 1856, when Samuel Putney quit the partnership. In 1861, Stephen Putney was given the rank of Captain and put in charge of shoe division of the Confederate Clothing Bureau in Richmond.In 1861, The Richmond Depot, (or the Richmond Clothing Bureau) supplied uniforms, footwear, and other equipment to most the Confederate States Army. The army units supplied by the Clothing Bureau were well served but as the war progressed and supplies had to come through blockades, many Confederate soldiers eventually went barefoot. In 1863, the Union and Confederate forces clashed in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, The battle involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war with between 46,000 and 51,000 soldiers from both armies in the three-day battle. With the Union victors this was considered the war's turning point. On the first day of battle, Confederate general Henry Heth, had sent a portion of his division into the small Gettysburg, to search for army supplies (shoes especially), and return the same day. Not expecting to meet the Union Army of the Potomac what followed was a meeting engagement which escalated into the first bloody battle in modern history. Two years later, after Richmond, Virginia fell to the Union army (1865), the Southern States lacked the industry needed to supply the Confederate war effort.

General Robert E. Lee, the commander of Confederate forces, surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union forces, at Appomattox, Virginia in 1865. Davis wanted to continue a guerrilla war but was caught by Union soldiers trying to escape wearing a loose-fitting, water-repellent overcoat, similar to a poncho, and his wife’s black shawl over his head and shoulders. At first, in the early morning mist, the soldiers thought he and the female companion were both women, until a corporal noticed the spurs on Davis's boots. Later for political gain and to further denigrate Davis, the story of his capture was embellished to have Jeffery Davis as a coward and crossdresser. In the Northern Press, popular lithographs and staged photographs portrayed caricatures of the “President in Petticoats,” in hoop skirts and bonnets.

Soon after the war ended, President Andrew Johnson offered amnesty to those who would return property and take an oath of allegiance. Stephen Putney was given amnesty and Putney and Watts prospered. After 1880, the company established a large industrial plant in Manchester. When eight years later, William Watts died, Stephen Putney's Shoe Company moved to Richmond in 1903, shortly before Stephen Putney’s death. The factory produced the famous Battle Axe shoes, before they finally shut down in 1986. When it closed it was the end of the longest operating shoe company in the United States with 169 years in business to its credit.

By the turn of the century, the US army were continuing to use the 1882 type Campaign/Field brogan for field service. Oversupply meant a surplus had to be used and US servicemen continued to be issued with them until the turn of the century. After complaints were received the upper lacing hooks on the calfskin shoes were easily damaged and the chrome tanning process sealed the natural pores of the calfskin leather causing moisture to collect inside the shoe and blister the skin. These were replaced by the 1904 Russet Marching Shoe which were blucher styled boots. Servicemen were given three boots i.e. a field boot, a dress shoe, and a garrison shoe. The 1904 Black Dress shoe was identical to its russet counterpart except the “vamp” or lower portion was made from calfskin while the upper portion was made from kangaroo skin.

Complaints the heavy leather around the collar of the high boots caused abrasions ‘on and above’ the ankles, meant it was back to the drawing board. US Army doctor, Lt. Col. Medial Corps, Edward Luman Munson had been studying the feet of more than two thousand soldiers over a four-year period using a radiograph (x-ray) machine. Working on the assumption “form follows function,” he developed and patented The Munson last, in 1912. The resultant brogans made from the Munson last were ideally suited to the contours of the foot and incorporate a natural toe box, making them much more comfortable. The roomier Munson Army Last, gave a non-restrictive environment for the kinetic foot. By design, shoes and boots made on the Munson Army Last followed the arch and heel contours and when laced gave the wearer a totally different feel. The “Munson last” was adopted in 1912 for all service shoes, and the military footwear manufactured prior to 1905 in the quartermaster's storehouse was turned over for the use of prisoners or be otherwise disposed of. The 1912 Russet Shoe replaced both the 1904 Russet “Garrison” Shoe and the 1905 Russet Marching Shoe. It was worn for “all occasions. The Munson Army Last design was so successful that it was used exclusively on all subsequent military shoes through to the early 1960’s.

After America entered the war in 1917, it was soon realised a more durable field shoe was needed to withstand the rigors of the Western Front trenches. The first pattern of trench boots failed to provide adequate protection from the wet conditions present in the trenches. The problems with leakage were attributed to the configuration of the soles and the lack of waterproofing on the uppers. A stopgap shoe was rushed into production without sufficient testing and hastily issued but proved totally inadequate. The new 1917 Marching Shoe combined features of both the French hobnailed field shoe, and the U.S. 1912 Marching Shoe. It was made from Chrome vegetable tanned calfskin (rough side turned out) with a round toe, toe cap, and heavy, double (middle and outer) sole with 5 rows of hobnails and iron heel plates covering both heels. The bootees also had a canvas insole with a bottom filler of ground cork and cement. The shoe was a great improvement but the outer sole impregnated with a water proof solution failed to stop water soaking through. The backstay of the 1917 Marching Shoe was prone to rip in a relatively short period of use. The 1917 Marching Shoe was was modified (Specification 1269) and issued without hobnails or heel plates to troops not assigned to the trenches but in need of strong boots. These modified boots were used by motorbike messengers (dispatch riders) as well as other servicemen, including US air aces (pilots). This style of boot became ‘Engineer's boots.

Casualties were so critical in 1918, the Chief Quarter Master for the U.S. Army made recommendations to a board of officers to develop an ideal boot for trench warfare. Commander & Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) General "Black Jack" Pershing (1860 –1948) approved the proposed changes and the Pershing Boot, replaced all former models. Now made from heavier leather with reinforced backstays, and the addition of iron or brass rivets located at the side of the shoe in the area known as the ‘blucher ears.’ The boots had much thicker soles with improved waterproofing. The soles were studded with hobnails and heel plates. An additional half-moon shaped iron toe cleat was attached to the end of each shoe. The new brogans were christened "little tanks" because of their bulky appearance. The only drawback was their rigidity which hindered the natural bending of the foot. This made fitting the boot critical otherwise the Pershing Boot proved better for the cold mud of trench warfare.

The high incidence of Trench Foot meant soldiers wore two pairs of woollen socks, which required them to have boots bigger than their actual foot size. The double layer of dry socks helped prevent prolonged exposure of the feet to cold and wet conditions (cause of Trench Foot), but the rigid structure of the boot made marching uncomfortable. To address this issue General Pershing ordered the shipment of shoes sizes 5-5 1/2 length and A width to be curtailed and in doing so probably caused more doughboys to suffer from trench foot. In the theatre of war it also not uncommon for advancing troops to remove boots from the bodies of the dead enemy in oreder to replace their own badly worn or ill fitting field shoes.

After the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, the need for the trench boot ceased. The design of military brogans was greatly improved during the First World War but by 1941, the US Army were again wearing garrison bootees totally ill-suited to field and combat duty. The military brogan was eventually over taken by modern combat boots (Tactical Boots) specifically designed to cope with special operations and quick-strike missions, where speed and manoeuvrability are critical. However, like the best laid schemes of mice and men, this does not always work. Modern theatre of war takes place on diverse surfaces and boots need to cope with the rigors of desert, jungle, urban and country settings. Waterproofing is important but so too is aeration with many military disasters in the recent past to support the importance of the right boot for the right battlefield. In desert conditions, for example US troops were reported slipping in their chemical-protection boots when the rubber soles were not a match for the dust. A sad sign of the times but necessity none the less the military boot of the future will protect the wearer against biochemical warfare.

Bond J Little Tanks: The Development of the American Field Shoe [Boot] During the World War Doughboy Center
Captain Putney and The Richmond Shoe Manufactory
Dunkerly RM (2015) To the Bitter End Savas Beatie
Munson LM (1912) The soldiers foot and military shoe Fort Leavenworth, Kan. [Menasha, Wis., Press of the George Banta publishing company]
Rossi W A (1997) The sexlife of the foot and shoe 2nd ed Krieger Publishing Company Malabar, Florida
Rossi W A (ed) 2000 The complete footwear dictionary 2nd Ed Krieger Publishing Company Malabar, Florida
Ryab T J (2015) Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign Savas Beatie
U.S. Army Field Shoes 1902 to 1917 The US Militaria Forum
Wolfe B. " (2105) Shoes at Gettysburg." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 19 Nov. 2015. Web. 9 May. 2019.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Seventeenth Century Boots

By the beginning seventeenth century boots had become fashionable for men and were worn at the English court during the reign of King Charles I (1600-1649). It is thought the popularity of boots at court was in part due to the infant Charles who suffered osteomalacia (rickets) and learned to walk with the aid of callipers cleverly concealed into his boots by the Royal shoemaker. The adult Charles could walk without the aid of his supports but continued to wear boots for preference.

Tight fitting boots were the fashion and these were worn long and folded back into deep tops. The front flap of the boots provided a handsome strap to fit spurs onto. Later soft boots with baggy creases and full tops became the fashion at European courts. Ladies continued to wear slippers with pointed toes and in some cases high heeled pumps. (Burnett, 1926).

The Spanish city of Cordoba had been the centre for leather craft in Europe for several centuries and the term cordwainer for shoe maker relates to those craftsmen trained in the skills of the shoemakers from Cordoba. Cobblers from around Europe were sent to Cordoba to learn the fine crafts and inevitable brought them back to their own countries. Cordoban boots were of the finest quality and were made of soft leather. These were worn crumpled or with a kink. A large piece of leather shaped like a butterfly was stitched across the instep to hold the golden or silver rowel spurs. The soulette, a strap fastened under the foot also held the spur in position.

Lace edged boot hose were worn inside the boot and were made from the finest linen. These protected the delicate silk stockings from being soiled by the leather.

From 1610 boots were worn indoors, sometimes with an overshoe but this fashion became passé after the Treaty of Westphilia (1648). By the middle of the century boots were worn for riding and these sat high on the leg with widely flared or funnel tops to protect the knee when riding. Funnel flaps were turned down for town wear and by 1627 gentlemen wore light coloured boots with red heels and the edges of the boots’ soles stained red.

Poor quality boots were made from cow hide and these were heavier but more durable. Under Louis XIII (1601-1643) a shorter, lighter boot known as the Ladrine (or Lazartine) was worn. These eventually were worn with a protective sole or galosh made from thick leather or wood by which time (1630) shorter boots were worn for riding, hunting and walking.

The restoration of the Stuarts to the English thrown (1660) saw the return of the heeled boot to England. Men wore boots with very long stockings which flared at the top of the leg and caught the foot with a strap under the instep. These were worn over silk stockings. Boots made of soft leather were worn tight on the leg but the top could be turned over. The Cavalier boot had a very wide top which could be turned down for town wear, showing silk or coloured leather lining. The width of the leg had increased and the boots were worn wide across the toes. Toes became square and this fashion remained popular till the end of the century. Aristocracy preferred light, high heeled shoes and boot but the working class wore more practical and cheaper shoes, which were low heeled. Usually these were dark brown, with leather latchet ties, deep square toes and closed sides.

In 1660 Paris became the fashion capital and Louis XIV preferred shoes to boots. The new vogue for decorative frills or cannons were worn below the knee saw shoes generally replace boots as fashion footwear for men. The military boot returned at the end of the reign of Charles II (1630-85) but with a light leather leggings covering called houseaux. The heavy boot was still used for riding.

In 1663 the first seamless boot was made by a Gascon shoemaker called Lestage. King William of Orange (1650-1702) introduced the jackboot, which was of sturdy construction and worn high above the knee, quartered, and heeled with immense breadth for the toes. Thigh high boots were fashionable for soldiers and horsemen.

Worn tight on the calf they were ample enough to be folded over in a buccaneer fashion above the knee. Sometimes covered in decoration with punched designs they covered the whole leg and were held in place with garters or suspenders from the doublet. The above knee section was known as bucket tops and were worn with leathers and spurs. The boot offered protective armour to the leg and is still worn by the Household Cavalry. Before the advent of gum boots the style of boot was worn by fishermen. Foonote

Thigh high boots were originally worn by pirates and smugglers, who tucked contraband or "booty" into them. The practice gave rise to the term, "bootlegging'

Burnett EK 1926 Romantic chapters in the history of the shoe: an extravaganza The Chiropodist 204-210.

Reviewed 27/03/2019

Friday, June 15, 2018

And then, there was Cowboy Boots.

The origins of the Cowboy Boot are well researched and started life as riding boots for the marauding Mongol tribesmen. Horsemen wore red wooden heels and conquered all before them. The fashion caught on and was popular for centuries among nobility and horse riders.

English Cavaliers took the style to extraordinary lengths wearing thigh high riding boots with Cuban heels. Once defeated by Cromwell, the Cavalier Stuarts immigrated in their droves to the New World. They took with them their boots and many settled in the south forming the southern plantation class. After the civil war many southerners migrated west to Texas taking with them their noble footwear. Standard cavalry issue during the American Civil War was the Wellington Boot.

In 1815 Arthur Wellsley, First Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. The popular victor became a national icon and both men and women emulated his sartorial style of footwear. The modern Wellington had a low cut heel which was calf high and not thigh high. This made them easier to mass produce.

Unfortunately during the American Civil War unscrupulous contractors supplied below par footwear and many of the cavalry boots were mass produced using reinforced cardboard. Climatic conditions took their tool and horse soldiers suffered deep cuts to their feet. A Chiropodist General to the US cavalry was appointed at this time. Our lexicon was enriched with the word shoddy meaning manufacturers willing to compromise for profit. Right and left boots were introduced and they were most unpopular. As a result shoe manufacturers decided not to introduce right and left shoes to the masses for another half century. At the end of the war the federal government had half a million pairs of boots surplus to requirements. Systematically during the following years troops stationed on the frontier were supplied with the shoddy boots. Shoe historians believe the foundation of the cowboy boot trade in the frontier was based on the simple necessity for civilian bookmakers to replace defective military footwear. By the 1880's the cowboy boot was beginning to emerge as a distinctive style. Starting life as a dress Wellington or full Wellington, the fashion merged with the hard wearing lace up boot (or packer), worn by drovers. Later the three piece military boot was incorporated and worn by Hollywood's Cowboys.

Tejas (or Napoleon style boots) with their peacock flair and ostentatious inlays were worn by megastars Tex Ritter and Tom Mix and became incredibly popular during the 30's and 40's. Somewhat surprisingly today’s cowboy boots are really fantasy footwear fabricated by Hollywood but the history of their development mirrors the history of boot manufacture from Genghis Khan to modern man.

(Video Courtesy: Steven Foreman Youtube Channel)

Reviewed 16/06/2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

Boots of the early Middle Ages

By the Middle Ages, boots were a type of slipper generally fur lined and worn to keep the feet warm by the higher clergy. From the late 12-14th century a popular lightweight short boot from France was the estivaux and another more tightly fitting boot was the stivali. The estivaux boots worn in England were worn high and wide on the leg. This forced the wearer to adapt a bow legged gait and had the added disadvantage of allowing rain to pour into the leggings. The stivali was worn tighter on the leg. The name stivali still survives in the German, ‘steifel’ and the Italian, ‘stivale.’ Boots were available in different colours but black was the most popular although red was also popular.

By the 14th century armed boots were reinforced with steel rods and chain mail. The military style was copied in leather boots and became popular with courtiers in the 14th and 15th centuries. These were worn by both men and women. At one time it was considered very fashionable to wear only one boot. According to Ribeiro & Cumming (1989), boots circa 1340 were laced across the top of the foot. Alternatively ankle length boots were elaborately punched with small cruciform holes. Fashions for ankle length long pointed boots lasted until the end of the 1400s and by 1460 seemed hose was worn with boots. Ankle length boots were sometimes protected with pattens and 1492 stylish men wore boots and shoes with rounded toes.

The brodequin was a light boot which had evolved from the cothurna and caliga. Until the 16th century, brodequins were light shoes worn inside boots and houseaux. The term also described an instep strap or stocking which young men wore inside their boots. Only in the 18th century was the brodequin found as a sort of a boot. Brodequins became fashionable footwear for ladies in the 19th century and were worn with fine linen or silk stockings. Brodequins were worn by dancers at the grand ball. The name was also given to a short army boot. Liturgical brodequins were richly ornamented silk or velvet stockings used for the consecration of bishops or the coronation of monarchs.

References Ribeiro A & Cumming V 1989 The visual history of costume London: BT Batsford Ltd.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

These boots were made for walking

Join shoe historian, Cameron Kippen discuss the history of Boots – from Cavemen to Cowboys on “Remember When” (6PR) with Harvey Deegan.